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A Dose of Grandchildren

By Phil Rosenbaum

Now that it’s over, I hope it’s the toughest phone call I will ever have to make.

My mother turned 79 in April but was in no condition to celebrate.

In recent weeks, she had stopped taking her medications. She stopped eating. She stopped going out. She even stopped giving water to the family beagle and her beloved cat. Isolated in her studio apartment in Queens, my mom said she no longer cared about living. On my daily visits, she rejected my efforts to get her to eat or go to the doctor, growing more and more physically and cognitively feeble.

One Saturday morning in April, I gave my mother an ultimatum: wash and dress for a car ride to the hospital or I’m calling 911. She stubbornly resisted so I called 911 and told them my mother is literally starving herself to death and not taking her meds. Ten minutes later, four NYPD officers arrived and walked in without saying a word. My mom was holed away in the bathroom with the light off. The officers gently coaxed her out and spoke with her about going to the hospital. The EMT guys came a few minutes later and we got her into the ambulance.

At the hospital, she made a slow recovery and wanted to return to her lonely apartment. I dared not tell her that I had emptied it out and moved everything to a studio right next door to my family’s apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

That night, I drove her from the hospital straight to her new apartment. She was reluctant, tired and in a bad mood, saying she didn’t deserve the apartment. However, as the days passed, I saw her coming back to life. She began to smile and relish daily visits from my four-year-old twins and their four-month-old sister. The twins made a game of giving grandma her nightly pill. When I tell people how the medication changed her mental state, almost invariably, they say that being close to her grandchildren, me and my wife is what revived her. Especially the grandchildren. Grandma got them into Donald Duck cartoons on YouTube. Now I realize that social bonding–a powerful mix of love, friendship and human companionship–is powering my mother’s recovery like no chemicals ever could.

That notion is backed by scientific research. A recent study conducted in Germany finds that grandparents who play a role in taking care of grandchildren live as many as five years longer than those who do not.  And, help from grandma and grandpa comes as a relief in single parent homes and those where both parents hold down jobs.

In my mom’s case, the inevitable trials of old age are always at play but we’re seeing daily milestones. Last week, my wife and I desperately needed someone to watch the baby for an hour while we took the twins to school. The last person I thought of was my mom. Then I said, “Let’s give it a try.” Grandma did just fine.

Now my mom watches the baby every morning, and she even looks forward to it.

Phil Rosenbaum is a network news producer.

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